home jobs contact us
Our Clients:
Browse by Sport
Find us on ASAP sports on Facebook ASAP sports on Twitter
ASAP Sports RSS Subscribe to RSS
Click to go to
ASAP Sports e-Brochure View our


March 31, 1996

Rick Pitino


Q. Do you feel like a whole life's work and everything you've put into this game kind of comes to a head tomorrow night? Have you been able to put that in any kind of perspective, that almost a life's work moving into one night?

COACH PITINO: I think a season's work. I don't think how this is going to turn out. We're a confident ball club. When we shoot a good percentage we get our pressure on, and our style sometimes wins out, when we don't we have to have a dog fight. You hope early on you shoot well so you get your style into play. We've got some matchup problems with this game. And it certainly is a big game, no question about it, when there's only two teams left and one is going to be crowned national champion.

Q. Rick, can you talk about what exactly you saw that day when you went out to Mt. Carmel to watch Antoine play, and how you convinced him to change his attitude and become a selfless player?

COACH PITINO: Actually when I watched Antoine play that day, you think you would leave the gym and you would not be interested in him. Because I saw a young man that forced the shot every time down the floor. As soon as he crossed half court he was thinking of shooting. Shot lessons is the hardest thing to teach anybody. He didn't attempt to guard anybody. But I saw -- what I saw? Jamal Mashburn is a wonderful talent that loved to play the game. He handled it. He did have great passing skills, he just didn't utilize them. He was a good offensive rebounder, and you just could see the talent. It was a question of whether you could convert him into the team game. Then after being with him and understanding his strong desire to compete, I would much rather take an Antoine Walker who loves to compete and try to change some of the things he's doing wrong than take a highly talented young man who does not compete and lives off reputation.

Q. When you think back to when you first took the Kentucky job, at that point how long it would take to get the program to where you are now at the national championships?

COACH PITINO: I think you get back to the top ten team and hope for the best. I thought it would take five years, for the first recruiting class get to the junior year. We got Jamal Mashburn to come when we were on probation, and he cut that building process in half. And then a lot of great players followed because of Jamal.

Q. Coach, I just want to ask one thing about last night's game. The first time you played they got the lead on you, you had to do a lot of catch up. Last night seemed much the reverse. And I just wanted your feelings on what it was like to be the pursue east rather than the pursueers?

COACH PITINO: One thing you know about Massachusetts, they're never going to quit, they play great defense. But that night we got down 16 points to Maryland and I started to realize at that point I had the wrong lineup on the floor, but I didn't want to change because we just meet Maryland and had two routs in the exhibition game. When we got down 19 I realized once again. So believe it or not that was a long time ago, and it's funny people don't believe, when I say losses help you. There have been certain wins that we've had that I think hurt our team. Certain losses help. That night it helped us tremendously to find out who to play, what roles they should play. I also believe, strange as this may sound, that if we would have beaten them that night they possibly would have beaten us yesterday. And I don't mean from a revenge motive. We just realize that we had to play so much better in order to come away with a victory, and what they said is we've got to play the same way to come away with a victory. It's not revenge as much as it is a deep, deep respect for the opposition.

Q. Coach, could you talk a little bit with the Jason Cipolla that you saw first and the Jason Cipolla that you've seen through the tournament?

COACH PITINO: I visited -- he loves the game. He shoots the ball, he'll leave early, he'll run at the shooter and take off, and we've got to be conscious of that. But Jason is a terrific young man. And we've got another tall person that we've got to stop. And they do a great job of penetrating and shooting over you, and we've got to make sure we take away the middle of the floor and suffocate that area.

Q. Rick, having played John, a close friend and now Jim, another close friend, does it make it more special to be here like that, competing against them?

COACH PITINO: Well, tomorrow night somebody is going to be a national champion. And I'll be as a head coach extremely happy, one of the more exciting times in my life or we'll be disappointed that we didn't win it. But there will be a small part of me if we don't win it will be extremely happy for the other man that has won it. We want to win it badly, want to give everything we can. But if, God forbid, if we should lose, I'll be very, very happy. If I had to pick one coach that I could lose to if I had to would be Jim Boeheim. I'm very excited that he's here. He gave me a great break 20 years ago in hiring me for Syracuse. So it will be bittersweet, the victory, certainly would be very excited. And we don't want to think about losses, but if it should happen we'll be happy for him.

Q. Rick, this is a two part question, first of all, people have constituencies, when they repeat over again, Kentucky is a very unique situation. Could you explain Jim's situation, how central New York perceives him, does it make -- perceives any Syracuse coach. Does it make it a problem? How does that go? And number two, I wonder how you became a native son of Kentucky?

COACH PITINO: There are periods of your coaching life that are like a roller coaster. For instance Denny Crum could do no wrong for so many years. And the last three years, prior to midway point of this season he was attacked like no coach I've seen, for a Hall of Fame coach to be attacked like that is very surprising, justified, unjustified, who knows. But he was attacked. And here's a Hall of Fame coach that is one of the premiere guys in the game. Now he goes back up. With Jim he started out so good and typical, winning the championship, and he starts to go down, they say he's a whiner, and now he's back up. When you have a span like that, you're going to have those roller coaster years. And he has withstood it so graciously, so well. And he does it a different way. We're almost opposites in the way we go about things. I think one of the reasons why his teams play so welcome tournament time is he gets them to relax on offense. And I think that's important. That's one thing I've taken from him. And he is someone right now that's at the top of his game. He's made himself better each other that he's been in this game. But it's fickle. It really is. It's a fickle world, because it's like Wall Street, my brother-in-law has an expression. We say you're only as good as your last game. Wall Street it's you're only as good as your last trade.

Q. What about Kentucky, your integration as a son of Kentucky?

COACH PITINO: The obvious difference is when I open up my mouth and they open up their mouths, we realize we're from foreign lands. What I try to do every place I go, when in Rome I do as the Romans do. I don't get them to understand New York, I try to understand Kentucky. I've done that. I have great respect and admiration for the people and the love of the game. It's been a tremendous marriage for 7 years. It's been exciting for me being part of that. Sometimes I think it's not real, sometimes I think it's a make believe world, but it's also very exciting.

Q. Coach, I wonder if you would outline some of the characteristics of your experience in the process that you brought to the program at Kentucky and if any of that applies to this team in particular?

COACH PITINO: I think I learned from the process more than anything else is not substitution patterns, but matchup situations, how you can take advantage of matchup situations, and how to deal with egos. When you have 11 good basketball players, I think you have to understand how to deal with the egos of all of them because whether they're first man or 9th man they think they're a great basketball player. And there's no better level to understand true motivation in the NBA. My experience both as an assistant and as a head coach was invaluable in dealing with the college athlete today.

Q. Could you talk a little bit more about what you learned from Jim and do you have a sense that you recruited Louis Orr you kind of helped get the program start at Syracuse?

COACH PITINO: We both got it started. He was a young coach who paid his dues, and waited a long time to become head coach. And I was just getting into the business. Both of us were hungry to build it up. We had some great times together. Our families became very close. I really got an understanding of zones from him, defensively as well as offensively. And also he's a terrific recruiter. You don't want -- when you recruit against Jim Boeheim, you may think he's not going to wow them in the home, his personality is not there, he has great charisma in the home. Families love him because he has no airs about him, no pretenses, very up front, very honest. I remember a story about Dolph Schayes who is a Syracuse native. I was against recruiting Danny Schayes. And there was no way I saw Danny playing. And Dolph, who was a wonderful man, was going to be a tough follower if we didn't recruit Danny. Jim said I've got it figured out, we're going to go with a triple post. I've seen teams run it. And I just put my head down. And I wondered who's going to guard the small forward and who's going to guard the power forward. He said we're going to play zone with that. And for three or four years -- I talked with Bernie Fine, who is a close friend of mine, Schayes and Dolph -- Danny didn't start until his senior year. I went up to Jim and said, when are you going to institute that triple post offense? And he finally got his way in the fourth year.

Q. Rick, so much emphasis on the last night's game, you being the pick for the National Championship, are you concerned, what have you done to see that they don't take that?

RICK PITINO: It's all talk about -- I'm not sure exactly the scenario that when one plays one, when it's Kansas, North Carolina State, who was the other one, Villanova/Georgetown? So you point things like that out. But we were happy, believe it or not, to play Massachusetts the first game rather than the other way around because we felt we are tough with preparation time and we wanted a long time to prepare for UMass. Now why not a long time to prepare for the other two? We just played Mississippi State, they're in our league, we knew them real well. And I know Jim's system fairly well. So if you put the four of us together I'm not sure there's too much difference between Mississippi State, Syracuse, Massachusetts and Kentucky. The difference is Massachusetts and Kentucky have been one and two most of the year. As far as execution on the court at this time of the year I'm not sure there's too much difference between the four of those basketball teams, so we would never look at it that way.

Q. Rick, two part question about the fervor people feel for your program there. First of all, I'm wondering is it true that you invited a caller to your show to bring home a bottle of wine and play some Sinatra and forget about basketball a bit? And secondly, your favorite examples, stories you have about what you've encountered as far as the passion.

COACH PITINO: I get 30 to 40 highly personal letters a week. And what happened on -- I have a thing called the Big Blue Line where everybody helps me coach, it's a college show. Have they ever coached? No. Have they ever played? No. But they're a great help to me. Now, one person called up and said, coach -- he was on a car phone. I broke down in the last game three times on tape. And this is true, now, because he called back the next week. Three times I broke it down, I noticed that certain underneath out-of-bounds plays and shots before the half were not getting where they needed to get. I interrupted him. And I said you watched the last game three times? That's nine hours of work. And he said, yes. I said, are you married? And he said, yes. I said, do you have a family? Yes. I said, do you have a job? Yes. I said, do me a favor. He said, anything for you, Coach. And I said, okay. I said, I want you tonight -- where are you from? From Eastern Kentucky. Go home, light a fire in front of your fireplace, get a nice bottle of red wine, put your kids to bed early. Put the Chairman of the Board CD on, listen to it, cuddle up to your wife and have a great night and let me watch the tapes. (Laughter). So he said he would. He called back the following week -- no, he wrote me a long letter and I read it on the air. It started, dear Coach, I can't thank you enough for what -- the advice you gave me last week. I put the Chairman of the Board on, started a fire, cuddled up to my wife, put the kids to bed and a half hour into cuddling with my wife I couldn't stand it, I had to put a tape on of Kentucky basketball and get away from it all. I would say there are 2,000 fans that break down the tapes of the games of Kentucky. There's a lot to do in Kentucky, as you see. But they're fascinating fans who love the game. And the other story is I just had a doctor write me, send me a Federal Express envelope from UK Medical School. They put, Please Open Before The Meadowlands, Extremely Important. So I open it up, I never heard of the doctor before. And it said, Dear Coach, you're not taking as many 3's, and it's going to hurt you in the tournament. Make sure Delk gets more screens, we need more 3's. Please make Walker pass the ball earlier in the break, and he listed this six things we must do. If you listen to these six things you'll be National Championship. I answer every letter back, I said Dear Doctor So and So, there are six things I'd like to help you with, first thing you're making too large an incision in surgery, you're giving too much anesthesia, three, you're charging too much with your billing, four, your nurses are not using the right procedures, and I listed six things. I said please when I come back I'd like to meet you on that and help you with your surgery, because I think you're way off the mark and I signed it Rick Pitino. And I signed it and sent it Federal Express and said please open before your next surgery. (Laughter).

Q. Rick, you've been here before, but to actually now be so close to the Final Four, and National Championship, and as perhaps as an overwhelming favor. How does it make you feel now?

COACH PITINO: You know, I'm very excited. I sometimes wonder why everybody seems to be in a rush and Jim is certainly not in a rush and neither am I. I've coached -- maybe because I've been in the process four years, I've only coached six NCAA tournaments. And everybody says you have to win, you have to win. We'd love to win. We want to win badly. But do we have to win? No. Because we're still building. But you'd like to strike when the opportunity is there. And I don't think I'm ever going to have as deep a team as this again. But the one thing I can tell you, I'm not going to sit up and tell you we don't want to win it badly, I wouldn't love to see it. One thing is we have our hands full with Syracuse University. The overwhelming favorite is nonsense, absolute nonsense. If you look at the way the two teams are playing -- if you judge it on the season, no question about it we should be the favorite. But if you judge it by the way the two teams are playing now, you understand you have a flat out war tomorrow night in Meadowlands.

Q. Coach, following up on that, do you see the championship as the missing link or unfulfilled part of your life or how do you approach that?

COACH PITINO: I don't know, as a coach, I think that I am not out to prove that I'm a great coach, good coach, bad coach. I'm just out to win for the team and that's it. Because when you win, great things follow along, as if it's a shadow. Would I love to win this thing personally? Yes. Just stop the dumb questions about when are you going to win it all? Because if I knew that I would answer you in 1998, definitely, I wish I had the answer to that. I always laugh. You get some people who never met me before in my life and say you wrote two books, no championships. These nice-spirited remarks you tend to make. And then I'm very honest with the books, I was not trying to tell an incredible story, I was approached by the agent, by the book company. And the sole reason I did the book was to save money for my children's education, it wasn't to promote my story. So as capitalistic as it may sound, we wrote the book for one reason, only one reason, it's called education of my children, money. It wasn't to do anything other than that and to have fun. It was the greatest experience I've had writing two books, because I got to know two writers that were terrific people. And today they wouldn't like to hear this publicly, but we're good friends. But it was a wonderful experience. And it wasn't like I was saying I'm a great coach, that's why I'm writing a book. To be bluntly honest I was doing it for the money.

Q. Rick, despite your success and Nolan Richardson's success at Arkansas. Do you think there are some people that are unsettled or not believers in your philosophy?

COACH PITINO: I would think just the opposite. I think everybody believes in it now. When you say offense or defense, which philosophy?

Q. More offense?

COACH PITINO: You have to understand the national champion that's been crowned in the last ten years with the exception of maybe Villanova have been high scoring teams from Vegas to UCLA last year, one of the best fast break teams in basketball, to Arkansas, Oklahoma and Kansas, both of them got out after it, the only deliberate team to win a championship has really been Villanova. Duke was a high-powered offensive basketball team that scored a lot of points. Now, the two of us, we average 92 points a game. And Syracuse is very explosive and always been known for their high-powered offense. So I think it would be the opposite, Pat, based on the way it's played in the last ten years.

Q. Coach, you were talking a little while ago about how you like to have a week to prepare. Obviously it's a very different test in the Final Four to prepare for the first game than it is the second game. I wondered if you could contrast those things as a coach. And take us a little bit behind the scenes in your preparation for UMass. What was that week like for you? Was there anything fun about it? And preparing for the game was there a greater sense of urgency?

COACH PITINO: I think they're wonderfully coached. By that I mean they have a great system. And they stay within that system. They send their forwards to the baseline, they feed off of Marcus. Their guards are tough. And what we wanted to do was just try and wear them out so they would be a tired team and go with them. John countered very well with playing guys he doesn't normally play with early on. We must have watched as a team 16, 17 hours of film. We started it out with CBA interviewing their team with playing Kentucky. We started out each edit with, we beat them once, we'll beat them again. And our players are getting sick of it after 16 hours. They always started it out with that. And the more we watched the more respect we had for that team. And we learned a lot from them last night. I don't know if we felt -- we felt like the winner, but we were just as tired as they were probably. We were physically tired. Now, preparing for Syracuse, we've got to make sure that we get our rest, do a lot of film work, but make sure that we get our rest. We're going to practice tonight. We need to practice against the zone and some of the things we do, but we have to be careful because we had such a tough game.

Q. I know you guys keep track of the deflections and things like that that are statistical trends, like number of possession of shots, turnovers and assists. Like a perfect game, or winning game, what are those standards.

COACH PITINO: If we can get 35 deflections they are a block shot, a tip from behind, a steal or a loose ball recovery. If we can get 35 of those a game and shoot better than 38 percent from the field, which is not high, you win 98 percent of your games, and that's held true in college and pros. We can create 12 steals a game, force 23 turnovers in the game and if one of every four passes of ours can go inside we play great offense. So statistically -- I owe an awful lot to Hubie Brown in preparing for an opponent and I've learned so much in reading and listening to John Wooden, because I first started out coaching -- we have a walk through tomorrow for one hour, I would spend 55 minutes of the hour just concentrating on our defense versus their offense. After listening to John Wooden speak and listening to him, he said the offense has to be just as important as preparing against their defense. And as a coach I think that was one of the better adjustments we did as a basketball team this year, we focused on just as much offense as defense. And it's made us a better team. And if you just listen to people with wisdom like that, you can always pick up. And that was a major thing for me to pick up as a coach. We would be prepared defensively and then go out there and shoot 39 or 40 percent. It's helped me as a coach.

Q. Could you talk how difficult it is to get a kid like Mercer or Turner to go through the system and know they're going to play less minutes or play less shots, are there certain kids you can't recruit because they're not going to be comfortable in that system?

COACH PITINO: With Mercer, he did not want a lot of pressure. He did not want to go in and get triple-teamed right away, because the best thing about playing in this system, when you go out there Antoine Walker has the freedom to roam. You're not going to see a lot of double teams. And these guys really get one-on-one coverage. Now, recruiting Mercer and Turner, they've had a lot of playing times, but if you were looking for instant gratification, Stephon Marbury or Felipe Lopez when he was a freshman, you couldn't come to Kentucky and be part of this basketball team, it wasn't going to happen. But to do what Mashburn has done in going up, up, up and getting better each year, you can see how great Mercer and Turner are going to be. But it's going to be done the right way, and they're not going to be leaving when they're emotionally not ready to leave. I think it's going to help and benefit them greatly.

Q. Coach Pitino, would you discuss Anthony Epp's progression. You did try a number of different players in his position as you talked about, and why you did that and why you ultimately came around to Anthony as the guy who would run the club.

COACH PITINO: I really didn't know, you know, the players were so close in ability, I really didn't know quite frankly at the beginning of the year what roles would be served and how much time they would play. And the only way to find out is to play a tough schedule early in the year -- prime example is the two exhibition games, win by 30 and 40, I didn't find out anything. Then you play against Maryland, Massachusetts, Georgia Tech., Indiana, Louisville, and then you realize how they're playing. The only way to find out is by playing great competition. We found out we needed Anthony Epps. Everybody he was on the store the ball was dispersed properly. His turnovers were low, he knew how to run an offense. And that was crucial. And without competition I don't believe we ever get to that point. We may have gone 8 or 9 and 0 and been an average basketball team.

Q. When you were among the first coaches to really embrace the 3 point shot did you feel like you were turning the zone into a dinosaur with the defense or did you wonder why so many teams were going away from it? And second of all how hard is to get the -- for the coach to get the kids to play zone.

COACH PITINO: When the three point shot came in, I looked at my basketball team and said how can we win? In every scenario you look at your talent and say how can you generate enough points to win? In '87 I felt we were limited in a lot of areas so we had to play zone but we had to press. Because I believe even if you're unathletic you must press, so you can create good offense for your team. If you just sit back and go against a potent defense against the team without creating easy buckets you're in trouble. The 3 point shot was a good weapon but only if you stopped it for a team like Providence. The first three Big East teams we played I don't think they made a point against us. Everybody was refusing to take it. We opened up against the Russians, I told the team we were going to be the number one three point shooting team in the country, we're going to take 15 attempts a game. At the halftime they had. I realized my calculations were off. And we increased it. I thought the same thing was going to hold true with the Knicks. We needed to find a way of scoring points. I felt we were limited in areas, slow if areas, that's why we pressed. There are teams I'm going to collect. Next year's team we probably won't press very much at all because a lot of things will change in the lineup. But you need the pressure, you immediately need the three when you've got certain weaknesses to generate points. It's interesting how the line has come in in the NBA. We averaged 116.8 points in a game and were third in the league in scoring, the three point shot has moved closer. And it's fascinating. I think there are a number of reasons for that, but I think everybody thinks that's the way to play and I'm not sure I agree with that.

Q. Before Boeheim gave you the job at Syracuse and you negotiated him out of all that money, what was your source of income, I guess, at the time you said "I do", to your wife, I mean. How ironic is it that Jim Boeheim winds up intruding on the two most spine-tingling nights of your life? (Laughter).

COACH PITINO: I didn't have a job; from the wedding, we had a lot of Italians at the wedding and you get hundreds only. So I was very good there. But at the time I had three opportunities, four, actually. I was a finalist for the head coach at Wagner College. I was offered the assistant coach of Fordham. That was a job I really wanted, actually. And then the other job was I was being interviewed by Jerry Tarkanian in Las Vegas to replace Lynn Archibald. I didn't know which way to go. Certainly it was exciting, because Jim was going to give me a lot of responsibility in recruiting, and teaching man defense, and I was excited about that. And it was a great move that I did make because it was -- although it was short, only two years, it was a wonderful, wonderful two years to spend with him.

Q. And the intrusions?

COACH PITINO: Well, it was a great intrusion, in my mind, because Jim at the time I don't even think he was dating anybody at the time. He was a single guy. I remember on his wedding night everybody -- he had this beautiful wedding in a big mansion at Paul Fallan's, a friend of his. Elaine, his wife at the time, was going around being polite to everybody and nice to everybody and we couldn't find Jim for an hour and a half. And finally we cut the cake and everybody was looking for him and he was in a little back room watching a Met game. So he's come a long way from that Met game.

Q. Rick, when you speak of matchup problems, I guess we would tend to think defense. Is that all together what you have in mind or is there something else there?

COACH PITINO: Anytime you double on the post you give something up. You'll give up a three point shot or hopefully a rushed three point shot. But when you double, say, Otis Hill or you double team John Wallace, you're going to leave one of those guys open. And oftentimes you get caught with a point guard or two man or three man rotating to weak side rebound against them. And that's the biggest weakness of trapping down a low post. Now we have to do that, we can't guard anybody one-on-one in the low post. We have to do it with quickness and eyeing the basketball. So we have to -- that's the biggest problem there. With Camby we have to double them, but they wouldn't post up Bright and Dingle as much as they would Camby. We understood that. You have a young man shooting 57 percent from the field and another young man who can step away. We have problems matching up with Lazarus Sims who they like to post up, also.

Q. Rick, which of your current roster players most readily adapted to your defensive wishes? And would you also address Delk's progression in this regard and where he came from out of high school?

COACH PITINO: When we recruited Delk he was a long range shooter and that's the only thing he came away with is his ability to shoot the perimeter shot. He's become a great low post offensive basketball player. He can put the ball down -- he's the best defensive player man-to-man on the team. Walker has gone from what I also -- most kids don't play good defense, but he's gone from a young man that has played excellent defense, man-to-man defense. But this is the type of team where physically we need each other. Derek Anderson is really a guard. He's a 6-4 guard playing a -- we rely on quickness and team defense and speed to offset our lack of having a true center.

Q. Jim Boeheim seems to be having just a great time here. And that hasn't always been the appearance he's given. Do you have a sense that he's changed at all over the last few years?

COACH PITINO: There's no doubt in my mind, and like wine, he's changed for the better. I remember a funny story with Jim. We were playing Magic Johnson, and Marty Byrnes -- we won the game, Magic was, I think, a freshman or sophomore. And Magic was voted the MVP even though he only had ten points. At that time he was Earvin Johnson, we didn't know he was going to be Magic that day. Jim was so upset that he took a stat sheet, crumbled it up, and hit this writer by the name of Rob Lowen, because he was the deciding vote to give Magic the MVP. And Rob, who was a baby-sitter, like a baby-sitter for me, was crushed by this. And they were good friends. And Jim has learned to deal with the media and have fun with you guys, ladies, too. Where before he wasn't like that. I think he's very much at peace with himself. I think he's very happy. And right now the fact that nobody expected him to be there, and he is here is a good testment of him putting this team together. And I think he's very relaxed, he should be relaxed. He's not going into the championship to be happy to be there, he knows he can win it.

End of FastScripts....

About ASAP SportsFastScripts ArchiveRecent InterviewsCaptioningUpcoming EventsContact Us
FastScripts | Events Covered | Our Clients | Other Services | ASAP in the News | Site Map | Job Opportunities | Links
ASAP Sports, Inc. | T: 1.212 385 0297